This has been a big year. Michael and I celebrated 25 years married. This homecoming and birthday celebration marked a half century on this earth for me – wow, where did the years go?! And in the fall, I brought our eldest to college. Another reminder that time flies as it seems yesterday he was a tiny baby. It was the first time since Leyla joined our family on my birthday eight years ago, we would again be a family of four for our day to day.
The milestones and transitions of this year impacted us all; Leyla was no exception. Her eight year old self is a wonderfully complex human being. Looking back at her development in the last twelve months showed huge growth and provided opportunities for introspection to me.
|At her first ever photo shoot for an Amazon Toy Campaign|
She learned growing up involves loss.
Leyla took her big brother's departure to college hard as they have a special bond. She told me soulfully, “I am SO sad he is leaving.” I empathized and reminded her, “We are all sad, sweetie, but this is a good thing and part of your brother growing up.” She looked at me like I totally missed the point, “Well, I had the LEAST amount of time with him. You and dad got 19 years, Damian got 15, and I only got 8.” I didn’t have a good response to this poignant display of her new math skills. So I settled for giving her a big hug which comforted us both.
|Leyla getting to visit big brother at college|
She grew as a teacher and a learner.
One day, she talked to me about issues she had at her school with her classmates. We walked through the specifics and some of the strategies she might try to get a different result. Some involved how to balance when to hold her ground and when to compromise; a tricky balance for me too. She shared a few days later, “Thanks so much for your advice. It all worked out great. I really appreciate you talking it through with me.” This was not the report back I expected from my second grader. But I am learning nothing is as I might expect with her. And she reminded me of how empowering it can be to be given another perspective and some new strategies to try.
She broadened how she identifies her complex identity.
She LOVES being Ethiopian. Going to ECA culture camp is a yearly highlight. But she is also proud to be Greek (via Dad) and they enjoy special delicacies together like dolmades. She also loves being Dutch (via Mom) hanging out with Oma and Opa and learning their native language lullabies. She is modeling how embracing a culture doesn’t mean excluding others. She is naturally inclusive which is inspiring to me.
|Hanging out in Denver with Oma and Opa|
Her relationship with her hair and mine evolved.
She rocked her first set of braids which she adored. She then missed her curls and was glad when they were released as we undid the braids. She loves playing with my hair and her dolls'. I think my hair is fine. I always had hair envy for those with thick long hair. But she thinks my hair is wonderful. She adores styling it. I get almost as much hair attention as her dolls. She practices creating braids and other fun, funky styles – most I cannot wear in public although she wants me to each time. She has helped me to model what I always tell her. “Your hair is perfect for you.” And so I am coming to accept mine is also perfect for me.
|Rocking her braids at an Ethiopia Reads Fundraiser|
She modeled how to expresses gratitude and make people feel seen.
Her approach reminds me of the power of being grateful for what is good and pure in my life. The simplest gestures can hold so much power. I can always find something good in every interaction but I need to develop the discipline to make it a focus. She has a natural ability to find the good in situations without ignoring the challenges. This is an art. She will thank people on a regular basis for the smallest of gestures and try to genuinely connect with them. You can see the impact as their faces light up. When I was at a recent fundraiser, a friend noted, I asked her, “How are you, Leyla?” And she responded, “Great. And how are YOU?” The later part being what she found more surprising.
|Celebrating after her first hip hop performance|
She experienced death as an intricate part of life.
With the unexpected passing of her beloved pup Bella, she experienced all the stages of grief. Disbelief: “I am waiting for her to just come back?” “Do you think she is hiding?” “I dreamt she was still with us”; Anger: “What is the point of living if we are all going to die anyway?!”; and finally Acceptance: “I am glad we had the time we had with her.” And she embraced our new pup Beau with the same reckless abandon. She makes the expression “loved to death” come to life. She opened her whole heart fully willing to risk the pain and loss again. She also held on to the love she had for Bella keeping a little stuffed animal of the same breed on her dresser. When she found out a neighbor lost her dad, Leyla sat down and wrote her a note. She then hand delivered, compelled to offer comfort. She was rewarded with a card in the mail which laid out how much this person appreciated her gesture. I was reminded me the power of sincerely reaching out whatever the age or situation.
|Doggie days at Amazon with little Beau|
Thank you sweet daughter for providing me (and your dad and brothers) so much joy and love and learning! Your life is complex and not without its share of unanswerable questions and undeserved pain. Yet you move through it with such grace and wonder and dignity.
Looking forward to another amazing year with you!